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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Two Selkie Stories From Scotland by Kate Forsyth, Ill. by FionaMcDonald, Armidale, NSW, Christmas Press, 2014

This is the second book to be published by Christmas Press, an Australian small press run by a group of writers and artists. The purpose of it is to publish the kind of  illustrated children's books they would have loved to read as children - and now! 

The first book, Two Trickster Tales From Russia, by Sophie Masson, featured Russian folktales with appropriately Russian-style illustrations(though they also reminded me of the art of British fairytale artist Walter Crane). The language was not too difficult for young children to understand, both those who could read independently and those to whom parents might read.

This new book is the same in that respect. I would have loved to read this when I was in Grade 2 or 3. (Admittedly, by the next year I was reading Robert Graves, but that was nerdy me.;-D) 

The two stories are "The Selkie Bride" - a story I have read before - and "In The Kingdom Of The Seals", which I haven't, although the theme of shooting at seals and hitting a Selkie is not unfamiliar. I've come across a much scarier version elsewhere. This one has a positive ending.

If you've been following Australian spec fic in the last year or two, you may have heard of Margo Lanagan's wonderful Selkie-themed Sea Hearts,  known as The Brides Of Rollrock Island outside Australia. It won about a million prizes and got on to the Stella list for women's fiction. 

Selkies are a part of Celtic folklore. The Selkie is a seal that can drop its skin and appear as a human for a while. If you steal the skin and hide it, the poor thing can't get home to the sea. The standard folktale is this: a fisherman or farmer sees a bunch of beautiful young women dancing on the shore. He startles them and they   run off back to the water, grabbing their skins and turning into seals. One poor girl isn't quite fast enough; the young man snatches her sealskin and demands she marries him.  She hasn't much choice. He hides the skin from her. She becomes a good wife and mother, but is always sad. One day, the  husband is out and one of her children finds the skin, either by accident or to make her happy. The woman grabs the skin, kisses the children goodbye - or sometimes doesn't bother - and returns to the sea. There's never a happy ending to these stories; even if the Selkie does go home, she loses her children and they lose her. 

In this book, the man who steals a bride from the sea is a laird, who tries to make his reluctant bride happy with nice clothes and food. Of course, he doesn't, and the story is pretty much the usual one.In the  second tale, "In The Kingdom Of The Seals", a man who makes his living killing seals and selling their pelts finds himself under the sea, facing the results of his actions, with a badly wounded Selkie that can't be healed except by him. But he's not a villain, just a man who has a wife and children to support, and the seals are a lot more forgiving than you'd expect. 

It's very appropriate to have these stories retold by a writer well known for her YA and adult fiction with folktale themes. She doesn't disappoint in this one.

The art is gorgeous and lavish, perfect for the kind of stories it's illustrating.

Another triumph for a wonderful new Australian small press.

The book will be available at all good bookshops in Australia from May 1. If you live outside Australia and would like a copy, you should be able to buy online. Just check out the web site: 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dead Dog In The Still Of The Night by Archimede Fusillo. Melbourne:Ford Street Publishing, 2014

Life is tough for Primo, and about to get even tougher. Crashing his father's prized red Bambino Fiat 500 is just the first in a series of ill-fated events - events which are inexplicably intertwined with a dead dog in the still of the night... 

Year 12 boy Primo is in trouble. He needs money to pay for the repair of the damaged car he shouldn't have been driving, and getting hold of it means doing something truly stupid that he wouldn't normally dream of doing. In its turn, that leads to further problems. Those he cares about could be hurt. 

Then there's his father, who once had a workshop, now gathering dust as he spends his time in a home, wandering in the past and mostly not recognising the family members who visit him. He had let down his family with his womanising and now Primo must overcome his anger and resentment at the old man before there can be any healing.

This is a novel about growing up. Primo's journey to self understanding begins with understanding the people in his life, even being able to feel empathy for the old man who left his home in Italy with a dream that never quite worked out, to understand his mother's actions better - and then to take responsibility for his own actions.

Luckily for him, he has a kind and decent friend, Tone, willing to help even when Primo stuffs up, and a girlfriend, Maddie, who may not feel they're an item any more, but is willing to listen - and to discuss. 

There are some touches of humour scattered through the book; I particularly liked the assumption many people in the novel have that Tone's Dad, a pizzeria owner, is some sort of Mafioso thug, a perception the father is happy to encourage because it's convenient(he served time in jail, but for a white collar crime).

You'll have to decide if the ending is happy or not. It's certainly positive in the hero's growth.

Melbourne flavours this novel, especially Fitzroy, gentrified on one end and poor and crumbling on the other. The author's Italian background comes through clearly, as does his voice, the latter almost literally - having heard Archie Fusillo speak, I could almost hear his voice reading the novel aloud! This might make an interesting audiobook if Ford Street ever has the resources to arrange it, but only if the author reads it himself.

There aren't enough good books for boys being published and it is always a pleasure to find one. 

I'd recommend this for boys from about fourteen up.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Vale Sue Townsend!

I've just heard that Sue Townsend, the author of The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4, has died at the age of only 68 years. It makes you realise that you need to follow your dreams now, because you can't assume you're going to live to some fabulous old age, then die while skydiving!

I remember when that book was a huge international bestseller, with a TV series and a play to keep it so. It must still be selling, because there have been several sequels, but alas, the class set we have on our shelves has been sitting there gathering dust for a long time.

When the book was published, I was an adult and read it as an adult, so I got the in-jokes, but I remember someone commenting that for boys about the age of the hero, it would be embarrassing. Boys, in fact, about the age of those in my Year 8 class.

And it might. Poor Adrian, that naive boy who is going through all the things boys of his age go through plus worrying about, and being embarrassed by, his parents, being dragged along for the ride by his sort-of-girlfriend Pandora, the daughter of middle class lefties(starting with the protest about sock colours at school)... He is a complete dork, but you can't help feeling for him.

At the same time, it's about life in Britain in the Thatcher years; in fact, the author also wrote a diary of "Margaret Hilda Roberts" showing she didn't have much sympathy for that lady.

I never got around to reading the rest of the series and I probably won't now; I suspect it's more of the same, only with an older hero.

But there's no question it's a classic and I'm sad that the author is gone.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Star by Felicity Marshall. Melbourne: Ford Street Publishing, 2010

Marion is a wooden Columbine doll. She and her friends Harley the Harlequin doll and the dog Polka live together by the sea. They're happy, but Marion wants more. She dreams of adventure. One day, a "smiling man" offers her stardom. She learns to sing and dance. She has a makeover, new clothes and a nose job. She has fan mail by the thousands, and someone to answer it.

And one day, she's on the scrap heap - literally. Fortunately, she still has friends...

A nice discussion of the emptiness of fame and fortune. And kids are those most likely to go for the latest, the youngest, the prettiest star. Definitely something to discuss in class as a writing prompt.

The art is beautiful and makes its point in case the reader didn't get it.

This has been lying on my TBR pile for some time, but is still worth buying. I believe it received a well-deserved Notable in the 2011 CBCA awards.

Recent Downloads - from Wodehouse to Russon!

I really need to stop doing this. But I read a blog post that mentions a book that sounds interesting and I just have to look and see if it's available in iBooks.

I have downloaded some PG Wodehouse short story collections. They're public domain and I love  Wodehouse, so funny!

Tank Boys by Stephen Dando-Collins is somewhere in my review pile, but couldn't unearth it, after tidying my books away, so I bought the ebook. It's a WWI tale of a famous tank battle, seen from both Ausse and German viewpoints.

Penni Russon's Undine - although set by the sea, in Tasmania, it's not really about the sea. The title is the heroine's name and her father is Prospero Marine, and there are quotes from The Tempest, but her powers don't seem to be connected with water.

Keith Stevenson's first issue of Dimension 6 - stories by Richard Harland, Charlotte Nash and Jason Nahrung. No wonder I didn't get a story in. The authors were paid, but  it's free for download on the Coeur De Lion Press website, so go grab it while you can.

David Malouf's Johnno(hey, it was his birthday! And it's pretty much historical fiction, so what the heck!)

Consider The Fork by Bee Wilson, a history of cooking implements and how we eat. Good fun!

A book about Eleanor Butler, Edward IV's secret wife before he committed bigamy with Elizabeth Woodville. It's Eleanor: The Secret Queen by John Ashdowne Hill.

A Tom Swift book.

Oh, lots more! I do love my ereader!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Riley And The Jumpy Kangaroo: A Journey Around Canberra, By Tania McCartney, ill. by Kieron Pratt.. Melbourne, Ford Street, 2013

This is the latest in Tania McCartney’s series of travelogues centred around various cities, some in Australia, some in Asia. This one is set in the author’s home town. Riley is a young boy with a biplane, which he uses to chase various characters around the city, accompanied by his animal friends. In this case, it starts in Parliament, where Riley hears a Booming sound that turns out to be a kangaroo,  then goes through Black Mountain Tower, the Botanical Gardens and other Canberra landmarks. 

The book is a clever mixture of cartoons and photographs, a nice, entertaining way to introduce children to various places in the country. Not quite Possum Magic, but should appeal to children who enjoyed that classic.

THE POPPY By Andrew Plant. Melbourne, Ford Street Publishing, 2014

With Anzac Day just around the corner, what better time to publish a book with a World War I theme?

But this is not about Gallipoli or even World War I in general. It takes an incident that happened during that war, which may not be well known to Australian children, but that forged a permanent bond between Victoria and the French town of Villers-Bretonneux. Villers-Bretonneux was destroyed by German attacks and just before Anzac Day, Australian troops won an unlikely victory there, while losing a third of their members.

After the war, Victorian schoolchildren donated their pennies towards rebuilding the Villers-Bretonneux school, which is still there, called the Victoria School in honour of the children who helped it be rebuilt. There are carvings of Australian animals, streets with names such as Victoria Street and a motto: Never Forget Australia. And a memorial that reminds viewers that not only soldiers died in the war.

The poppy has become an icon of that war and it appears throughout the book. The art is lush and beautiful, the information simple but effective for young children to read and learn. It’s a nice idea, too, to cover a story of which children were a part.

Recommended for any school library or for a gift for your child that explains Anzac Day in terms they can understand.

CHASING SHADOWS By Corinne Fenton, ill. Hannah Sommerville. Melbourne, Ford Street Publishing, 2014

Beth suffers from depression, something that even children can experience. Hoping to chase away the shadows, Beth’s father brings home Patches, a lively, mischievous puppy.

But depression isn’t that simple. You can’t cure it with a “cheer up!” It takes a near disaster to bring her out of her shadow land...

A lovely, simple, gentle story that will help children to understand this condition.

And once again, Ford Street has discovered a wonderful new artist, Hannah Sommerville, a Victorian artist whose first book this is.  There is something very Julie Vivas about the style of Ms Sommerville’s art. 

Hopefully, she will be just as successful when her time comes.

THE CUCKOO Gary Crew, Ill. Naomi Turvey. Melbourne: Ford Street Publishing, 2014

Firstly, I’d like to say something about Ford Street Publishing, a small press that punches well above its weight and encourages new writers and artists. In 2012, it published the exquisitely beautiful In The Beech Forest, written by veteran Gary Crew and illustrated by teenage artist Den Scheer, whom I believe will be the next Shaun Tan. I give away my review copies because of the lack of space on my shelves, but that was one with which I couldn’t bear to part. (I was hoping it might get a Crichton award for new artists, but it didn’t even score a Notable in that year’s CBCA  Awards, which tells me that judges can get it wrong sometimes, as they did when  the classic Animalia failed to win the CBCA Awards many years ago.)

Now there’s this new picture book with Gary Crew again and another new artist, Naomi Turvey, who was completing her Diploma of Illustration in 2012, the year when In The Beech Forest came out. And it’s also a gorgeous piece of work, from the fairytale-style cover to the tinted watercolour sketches inside.

Despite being set in New South Wales’s Blue Mountains, the story isn’t especially Australian. It could be anywhere. In fact, it’s basically a fairytale with the grim(pardon the pun) flavour of the typical folk tale, well suited to the author of so much scary fiction.

Martin is the runt of the family. His father is a forester and he has two older brothers who mock and jeer at him. His father makes it clear he is not valued. So Martin spends his days in the forest, making friends with the local wildlife and thinking of the cuckoo that is dumped in another bird’s nest, abandoned by its mother as he was.

It never, of course, mentions that the young cuckoo throws out its foster siblings to get all the attention of the parents - but that is very relevant here.

When his brothers are carried off by an eagle to be fed to its young and his father makes it clear that he wishes it had been Martin instead of them, Martin wanders off and, finding the feathers of a baby eaglet, sticks them on and replaces it in the eyrie, opening his mouth for food that includes his former forest friends, thinking they are his real brothers because they have sacrificed their lives for his (not willingly!). 

See? Grim fairytale!

But there is a positive ending I won’t spoil for you. 

This is not a book for young children. It’s more for older kids and for the kind of adults who collect picture books. But there’s plenty to discuss in class, about bullying and family troubles, and whether you could consider Martin as a good guy. Even the art themes merit discussion - there is a lot to notice in these pictures, which are much more than just an illustration of the story they accompany.

 And if the story isn’t really Australian, the art is, with long eucalyptus leaves, rocky landscape and gum tree trunks. This is an artist to watch out for and congratulations to Ford Street for discovering her and for another beautiful book.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The - Ta Da! - CBCA Shortlist 2014

And here they are, folks, this year's Children's Book Council of Australia shortlisted books. I haven't done more than glance at the Notables, although they have the irritating habit - for me, anyway - of listing the shortlisted books among the Notables, which makes the list way too long and you have to disentangle them from the books which nearly made it to the shortlist, but not quite. (I scored two of those, one for Potions To Pulsars, one for Wolfborn, and Potions was also on the Clayton's shortlist).

My library only has three of the shortlisted books, so those are the ones I've read, though the Fiona Wood novel has been waiting patiently on my iBooks shelf for some time, I guess I'd better read it now. Lucky lady, she has written two novels and both have been on the shortlist! We have Life In Outer Space, The First Third and in the Younger Readers category, My Life As An Alphabet. All delightful books, though in the Older Readers category, I'm going to hope it goes to The First Third, a lovely, lovely book, gentle, touching, funny and sad all at once.

If you haven't heard of the Clayton's shortlist, here's a link to this year's predictions:

If you're an old enough Aussie or Kiwi, you'll remember the ad for a drink called "Clayton's - the drink you have when you're not having a drink!" It was an imitation alcohol. I don't think you can buy it these days. But it added an expression to the language. You speak of a Clayton's this or that when you mean something that's a bit like whatever, but not quite. The Clayton's Shortlist is a prediction of what is going to be on the CBCA shortlist.

Interestingly, it got about three books right(The First Third was an Honourable Mention in the Clayton's and made it to the CBCA Shortlist). Check it out, see what you think.

I will have to buy at least the Older and Younger Readers for my library. Fortunately, I now have a new bookseller, the Sun bookshop in Yarraville. Only problem is, the minute something gets on the shortlist, you can't get it. One bookseller told me that some publishers actually withdraw their books so they can add the shortlist "sticker" to the cover. Often, you can't get the books at all until AFTER the winners are announced? Yeesh! Must contact the Sun now, before I get back to work.

Meanwhile, if you've read any of the books on this list, do give your opinion. I'll scurry around and put my own comments up as I read them.

Older Readers

The Incredible Here and Now (Felicity Castagna, Giramondo)
Life in Outer Space (Melissa Keil, HGE)
The First Third (Will Kostakis, Penguin)
Fairytales for Wilde Girls (Allyse Near, Random House)
Wildlife (Fiona Wood, Pan)
The Sky so Heavy (Claire Zorn, UQP)

Younger Readers

Violet Mackerel’s Possible Friend (Anna Branford, illus by Sarah Davis, Walker Books)
Song for a Scarlet Runner (Julie Hunt, A&U)
A Very Unusual Pursuit (Catherine Jinks, A&U)
My Life as an Alphabet (Barry Jonsberg, A&U)
Light Horse Boy (Dianne Wolfer, illus by Brian Simmonds, Fremantle Press)

Early Childhood

I’m a Dirty Dinosaur (Janeen Brian, illus by Ann James, Viking)
Baby Bedtime (Mem Fox, illus by Emma Quay, Viking)
Banjo and Ruby Red (Libby Gleeson, illus by Freya Blackwood, Little Hare)
Kissed by the Moon (Alison Lester, Viking)
The Swap (Jan Ormerod, illus by Andrew Joyner, Little Hare)
Granny Grommet and Me (Dianne Wolfer, illus by Karen Blair, Walker Books)

Picture Books

The Treasure Box (Margaret Wild, illus by Freya Blackwood, Viking)
King Pig (Nick Bland, Scholastic Press)
Silver Buttons (Bob Graham, Walker Books)
Parachute (Danny Parker, illus by Matt Ottley, Little Hare)
The Windy Farm (Doug MacLeod, illus by Craig Smith, Working Title Press)
Rules of Summer (Shaun Tan, Lothian)

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books

Jeremy (Christopher Faille, illus by Danny Snell, Working Title Press)
Ice, Wind, Rock (Peter Gouldthorpe, Lothian)
Jandamarra (Mark Greenwood, illus by Terry Denton, A&U)
Yoko’s Diary: The Life of a Young Girl in Hiroshima (ed by Paul Ham, ABC Books)
Meet… Captain Cook (Rae Murdie, illus by Chris Nixon, Random House)
Welcome to My Country (Laklak Burarrwanga and family, A&U)

Crichton Award for New Illustrators:

Big Red Kangaroo (Graham Byrne, text by Claire Saxby, Walker Books)
The Bloodhound Boys Book 1: The Great Blood Bank Robbery (Andrew Cranna, Walker Books)
I’ve An Uncle Ivan (Ben Sanders, Thames & Hudson)
The Nerdy Birdy (David Snowdon, text by Danielle Wheeldon, self-published).

Saturday, April 05, 2014

And The Aurealis Award Goes To...

I have a confession to make - I haven't read any of the winners, though I do have some of the books and have read some of the other shortlisted books. Interesting to see a couple of the winners are self published(are you reading this, Lan?).

I have met Amie K, briefly, at Flinders Street Station, where she admired my Aussiecon t shirt as we got off the train and told me she had sold a novel.

Congratulations to all those lucky enough to have reached the short list - not that you didn't deserve it, but you were competing with a LOT  of other fabulous books that also deserved shortlisting. ;-)

So, pinched from the Tor web site(which is well worth joining), this year's Aurealis Awards go to...

Peter McNamara Convenors’ Award for Excellence:
Winner: Jonathan Strahan


Winner: Burger Force by  Jackie  Ryan  (self published)
Winner: The Deep Vol. 2:  The Vanishing  Island by  Tom  Taylor  and  James  Brouwer (Gestalt  Publishing)
Savage  Bitch by  Steve  Carter  and  Antoinette  Rydyr  (Scar  Studios)
Mr  Unpronounceable  Adventures by  Tim  Molloy  (Milk  Shadow  Books)
Peaceful Tomorrows  Volume Two by Shane W Smith  (Zetabella  Publishing)


Winner: The four seasons of Lucy McKenzie by  Kirsty  Murray  (Allen  Unwin)
Kingdom of  the Lost,  book  2:  Cloud Road by Isobelle Carmody  (Penguin Group  Australia)
Refuge by Jackie French (Harper  Collins)
Song for a scarlet runnerby  Julie  Hunt  (Allen &Unwin)
Rules of Summer by  Shaun Tan (Hachette  Australia)
Ice  Breaker: The  Hidden 1 by Lian  Tanner  (Allen  & Unwin)


Winner: “By  Bone light” by Juliet  Marillier  (Prickle  Moon,  Ticonderoga  Publications)
“Mah  Song” by Joanne  Anderton  (The Bone  Chime  Song  and  Other  Stories, FableCroft  Publishing)
“Morning  Star” by D.K.  Mok  (One  Small  Step,  an  anthology  of  discoveries,  FableCroft Publishing)
“The  Year  of  Ancient  Ghosts”  by  Kim  Wilkins
The  Year  of  Ancient  Ghosts,  Ticonderoga Publications)


Tie Winner: These Broken  Stars by  Amie  Kaufman  and  Meagan  Spooner  (Allen  &  Unwin)
Tie Winner: Fairytales  for  Wilde  Girls by  Allyse  Near  (Random House Australia)
The Big Dry by Tony Davies  (Harper  Collins)
Hunting by Andrea Host  (self published)
The Sky So Heavy by Claire  Zorn (University  of  Queensland  Press)


Winner: “The  Year  of  Ancient  Ghosts”  by  Kim  Wilkins  (The  Year  of  Ancient  Ghosts,  Ticonderoga Publications)
“Fencelines” by Joanne Anderton  (The Bone Chime Song  and  Other  Stories,  FableCroft  Publishing)
“The  Sleepover” by  Terry  Dowling  (Exotic  Gothic  5,  PS  Publishing)
“The  Home  for  Broken Dolls”  by  Kirstyn  McDermott  (Caution:  Contains  Small  Parts, Twelfth Planet Press)
“The  Human  Moth” by Kaaron Warren (The  Grimscribe’s  Puppets,  Miskatonic  Press)


Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near (Random  House  Australia)
The Marching Dead by Lee Battersby (Angry  Robot  Books)
The First  Bird by Greig  Beck  (Momentum)
Path of Night by Dirk Flinthart  (FableCroft  Publishing)


Winner: “The  Last  Stormdancer” by Jay Kristoff  (Thomas Dunne Books)
“The  Touch  of  the Taniwha” by Tracie  McBride  (Fish, Dagan Books)
“Cold, Cold  War” by Ian McHugh (Beneath Ceaseless  Skies, Scott H. Andrews)
“Short Circuit” by Kirstie Olley (Oomph: a  ittle  super goes a long way,  Crossed  Genres)
“The  Year of Ancient Ghosts” by  Kim Wilkins (The  Year of Ancient Ghosts, Ticonderoga Publications)


Winner: A  Crucible  of  Soulsby  Mitchell  Hogan  (self published)
Lexicon by  Max  Barry  (Hachette  Australia)
These  Broken  Stars by  Amie  Kaufman  and  Meagan  Spooner  (Allen  &  Unwin)
Newt's  Emerald by  Garth  Nix  (Jill  Grinberg  Literary  Management)
Ink  Black  Magic by  Tansy  Rayner  Roberts  (FableCroft  Publishing)


Winner: “Air, Water and the Grove”  by Kaaron Warren  (The Lowest Heaven, Pandemonium  Press)
“The  Last  Tiger”  by  Joanne  Anderton  (Daily  Science  Fiction)
“Mah Song” by  Joanne  Anderton (The  Bone  Chime Song  and  Other  Stories, FableCroft Publishing)
“Seven  Days  in  Paris” by Thoraiya  Dyer (Asymmetry,  Twelfth  Planet  Press)
“Version” by Lucy  Stone (Andromeda  Spaceways  Inflight  Magazine  #57)


Winner: Lexicon by Max Barry  (Hachette)
Trucksong by  Andrew  Macrae  (Twelfth  Planet  Press)
A  Wrong Turn At The Office Of Unmade Lists by  Jane  Rawson  (Transit  Lounge)
True Path by Graham Storrs (Momentum)
Rupetta by Nike Sulway  (Tartarus  Press)


Winner: The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2012 by  Liz  Grzyb  and  Talie  Helene  (Eds),  (Ticonderoga  Publications)
Winner: One  Small  Step,  An  Anthology  Of  Discoveries by  Tehani  Wessely  (Ed)  (FableCroft  Publishing)
Dreaming  Of  Djinn by  Liz  Grzyb  (Ed)  (Ticonderoga  Publications)
The  Best  Science  Fiction  And  Fantasy  Of  The  Year:  Volume  Seven by  Jonathan  Strahan  (Ed) (Night  Shade  Books)
Focus  2012:  Highlights  Of  Australian  Short  Fiction by  Tehani  Wessely  (Ed)  (FableCroft Publishing)


Winner: The Bone Chime  Song and Other Stories by Joanne  Anderton (FableCroft  Publishing)
Asymmetry by  Thoraiya  Dyer  (Twelfth  Planet  Press)
Caution: Contains Small Parts by Kirstyn McDermott (Twelfth Planet  Press)
The  Bride Price by Cat Sparks  (Ticonderoga  Publications)
The  Year of Ancient  Ghosts by  Kim  Wilkins  (Ticonderoga  Publications)